Fleeing the Jurisdiction

Armies as acronyms
November 29, 2006, 2:55 am
Filed under: Law, Sierra Leone

Just back from watching closing arguments in one of the Special Court trials. Despite the lurching pace of argument necessary for live translation, it was easy to sense the momentous nature of the occasion. Being spoken before me were words no doubt soon to be reproduced in law textbooks studied the world over. I sat in the public gallery, surrounded by Sierra Leoneans dressed in their finery (a very natty tuxedo, complete with glitter-flecked cummerbund, was worn by one gent in the back row). The tension was palpable, reminding me of just how intellectual my interest was, by comparison. All the same, it made me strangely keen to one day be sitting on the other side of the bulletproof glass, at the bar table in comical barristerial garb.

Wading through the case materials, it is necessary to develop a glossary of acronyms. Whilst this is hardly a new activity, given my governmental background, it’s a rather more sobering exercise knowing that the seemingly ineffectual sequence of letters may conceal a murderous character. The interplay of factions involved in the conflict is, even now, opaque to all but the most entrenched of commentators. Spilling over national boundaries, spanning unlikely and temporary alliances and divided seemingly more by geography than ideology, the players in Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war are now each represented, under the banner of their respective acronyms, before the court.


Una, kusheo!
November 29, 2006, 1:30 am
Filed under: Law, Sierra Leone

Four countries, thirty-seven hours and an undisclosed number of G&Ts later, I have arrived in Freetown. Late in the balmy night, I was met at the ramshackle airport by my ‘fixer’, Ibrahim, who waved off the police and other officials petitioning me for cigarette money and secured me a flight on the helicopter to the mainland. Loud and bumpy. Much gesticulation by moonlight got me a driver to the guesthouse where I spent a largely sleepless night, waking intermittently to untangle myself from the mosquito net.

The next day I ventured out past throngs of church-goers, children in shirt and tie or pinafore dragged from their games of street football, parents in colourful robes and dresses appearing oddly formal for the tropical heat. Further into town the emphasis was more commercial, roadside griddles warming and as-yet unidentifiable produce heaped for sale. Bundles of firewood, baskets of charcoal carried atop the head with deportment that would shame an English governess. Found the office ringed with razor-wire.

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Casting off the cardigan
November 23, 2006, 11:04 am
Filed under: Development, Government, Law, Sierra Leone

I’m writing this first entry as my last act in the employ of government. Appalling waste of public resources. As a taxpayer, I too am outraged. Nonetheless, this is necessary catharsis. Tomorrow I leave for Sierra Leone, to take up a legal role with a local human rights NGO. In part, I’ll be working on a war crimes case being heard in the United Nations-sponsored Special Court.

It’s a long way from the suit-and-tie, ivory tower law I’ve lately been practicing. Whilst the legislative reform for which I’ve had responsibility goes undoubtedly to the social good, the abstract and often detached nature of the process has increasingly chafed. Work in Cambodia, on a community justice project completed earlier this year, confirmed for me the appeal of a more engaged, albeit less assured, path.

For all its risk-averse, reactionary, rule-bound and rationalising ways, government has been an intellectually satisfying context in which to apply my skills to an end not driven by profit. I know I leave behind many colleagues whose integrity and commitment to principle helps maintain the creaky machinery of democracy. Time, though, for me to back myself in pursuing a different mode of service.

For all those to whom it all sounds ludicrously idealistic and naive, please feel free to assume this simply veils a desperate and quixotic attempt to garner female attention. Regardless of this transparent duplicity, I’ll do my best when commenting in this forum to project the image of a conscientious observer of and sometime contributor to the thorny and problematic process of development.